Keep Aging at Bay With Hormone Replacement
Julian Whitaker, MD
One of the most predictable indicators of aging is a decline in certain hormone levels. The word hormone, from the ancient Greek, means to excite, and with good reason. Declines in various hormones have decidedly unexciting effects: slowdown in metabolism, deterioration of overall function, decrease in sense of well-being, and other manifestations of aging. In fact, the “biological clock” theory of aging is based on the premise that hormones control the entire aging process, from birth to death.
Hormones Control Your Biological Clock
For example, growth hormone is produced in abundance during the rapid growth from infancy through adolescence, falling off around age 20, when you stop growing. Estrogen and progesterone kick in as girls enter puberty and decline abruptly between the ages of 40 and 50, ending women’s reproductive years. Testosterone production steps up at about the same age in a boy, and then begins a more gradual tapering off from his mid-twenties throughout the rest of his life. DHEA and pregnenolone follow a similar trend in both men and women. Thyroid hormone levels likewise fall with age, although rates and curves vary significantly from person to person.
Longer Lives Mean Great Need for Replacement Hormones
The average life expectancy is pushing 80 years. At the turn of the century it was 47, and at the beginning of the first millennium it was 26. Since we’re living so much longer, we are spending more and more of our lives in a state of relative hormone deficiency.
The idea that naturally occurring, age-related low hormone levels might be construed as a deficiency doesn’t sit well with conventional physicians. Although it’s true that these declines are natural and expected, it’s also true that they contribute to the ravages of aging. If we can return these hormone levels to what they were when you were at your physical peak, in your mid- to late-twenties, by supplementing with safe, natural forms of these hormones, I see no reason not to do this.
Many studies show that physiological replacement of these hormones results in improvements in specific biologic functions and overall health. However, conventional physicians seem to be downright schizophrenic about the whole subject.
For instance, women are routinely given Premarin (conjugated estrogen) and Provera (progestin, or synthetic progesterone) to ward off the signs and symptoms of hormone depletion. Yet doctors will allow men to wither right before their eyes and not even think of giving testosterone. They routinely replace thyroid and insulin when they are no longer being manufactured by the body, but are quite skittish when it comes to using human growth hormone or DHEA, which are far safer.
My position on hormones is this: physiologic replacement of those hormones that decline with age. This offers generalized health-enhancing effects, and it contributes to the slowing down of some of the deterioration associated with aging.
Now I want to give you an overview of what I consider the most important hormones in any discussion of anti-aging. Please note that these recommendations are, in general, for people from the ages of 40 to 50, the “magic” time at which the effects of declining levels become obvious.
Melatonin Controls Your Hormone Clock
The hormone orchestrating the ebb and flow of these other hormones is melatonin. Melatonin influences not only our daily rhythms—waking and sleeping, hunger, energy and body temperature cycles—but also lifelong rhythms of aging milestones. And melatonin does this in part by cueing hormone production or its cessation.
In laboratory studies, aging mice taking supplemental melatonin became slim and flexible, energetic, less susceptible to infections, and more active sexually. Plus they lived 30 percent longer than average. The suggest dose of melatonin, which is available in health food stores, is 1 to 3 mg at bedtime. Start at the lower dose and work up, if necessary.
DHEA Provides Broad-Spectrum Benefits
Blood levels of DHEA, the most abundant hormone in the blood, are an extremely accurate predictor of mortality. One study charted DHEA sulfate levels in 242 men, ages 50 to 79, for 12 years. A 100 mcg/dl increase in DHEA correlated with a 36 percent reduction in death from any cause and a 48 percent reduction in death from heart disease. DHEA is also available in health food stores. I routinely monitor my patients’ blood levels of DHEA sulfate with the goal of maintaining young adult levels. For men, the dosage usually required to do this is 25 to 100 mg a day; for women, it’s 10 to 50 mg daily.
Human Growth Hormone Helps Decrease Body Fat
Human growth hormone supplementation has been demonstrated to increase skin thickness, bone mineral density and lean muscle mass, and decrease body fat, changes that researchers equated in magnitude “to the changes incurred during 10 to 20 years of aging.” It is given by subcutaneous injection in small doses. The dosage commonly used is 4 units per week, 1 unit every day for four days each week. The dosage can vary, depending upon blood levels obtained in follow-up. Growth hormone can be expensive, running about $80-$100 per week for the therapy. It requires a doctor’s prescription.
Testosterone Has Energizing Effects
Testosterone supplementation significantly improves cardiovascular functioning, libido, lean muscle mass, energy and sense of well-being in men and, in much smaller amounts, enlivens libido in women. This prescription hormone is a staple in my practice, and I put a large percentage of my male patients over 50 years of age on supplemental testosterone, either in injected or topical form. I do not recommend oral testosterone. Women also benefit from very small doses of testosterone for improving libido, mood, and sense of well-being.
Don’t Overlook Thyroid Replacement
Thyroid hormone affects a wide range of physiological functions. If levels are low, thyroid replacement can help with weight gain, dry skin, hair loss, poor circulation, infertility, depression, constipation, chronic infections, and muscle and joint stiffness. Thyroid is one of the most overlooked hormones considered for replacement in aging people. Laboratory tests for thyroid often miss mild cases of hypothyroidism (low thyroid) because the “normal” ranges are so broad. I look for clinical signs of low thyroid and often give patients a trial on natural thyroid replacement, even if the lab tests suggest low normal function. I recommend only natural thyroid.
Estrogen and Progesterone
Estrogen and progesterone, the quintessential female hormones, rapidly decline during the menopausal years. Restoring youthful levels with natural, bioidentical hormones—not horse estrogen and synthetic progesterone—are excellent therapies for older women. They relieve menopausal symptoms, help stop bone loss, improve mood and skin hydration, and, when used topically, protect against heart disease. Many women are understandably nervous about hormone replacement therapy, but I am convinced that natural progesterone and estrogen are safe and effective. It sometimes takes dosage adjustments, so you’ll need to work closely with your physician.
- A comprehensive natural hormone replacement therapy program requires physician supervision. To see a doctor at the Whitaker Wellness Institute, call (866) 944-8253 or click here.
- Rudman, D et al. Effects of human growth hormone in men over 60 years old. New Engl J Med, July 5, 1990;323(1): 1-6.
- Pierpaoli, W et al. The Melatonin Miracle, Simon & Schuster, New York, NY, 1995.
- Barrett-Connor, E et al. A perspective study of dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate, mortality and cardiovascularl disease. New Engl J Med, Dec. 11, 1986;315(24): 1529-1524.
- Flood, JF et al. Memory-enhancing effecys in male mice of pregnenolone and steroids metabolicalloy derived from it. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, March 1992;89: 1567-1571.
- Tenover, J. Effects of testosterone supplementation in the aging male. J. Clin. Endocr. and Metab., 1992: 1092-1098.
- Lee, JR. Is natural progesterone the missing link in osteoporosis prevention and treatment? Medical Hypothesis, 1991;35: 316-318.
Modified from Health & Healing with permission from Healthy Directions, LLC. Copyright 1997. Photocopying, reproduction, or quotation strictly prohibited without written permission from the publisher. To subscribe to Health & Healing, click here.